Before you get too far into the process of setting up your home office or business, you need to ensure that you can actually—and by “actually” we mean “legally”—run your business in your home. There was a time when zoning laws prohibited a large variety of home-based businesses, but over the years the restrictions have been relaxed. The limitations on what types of businesses you can run from home are fairly obvious and are really intended to minimize the extent to which a business is a nuisance to the neighbors.
At the same time, technology has tremendously expanded the number of opportunities that can be pursued unobtrusively in the home. If you’re a freelance writer or graphic designer, sitting in your house with a computer is not bothering anyone. But if you are running a fat-rendering plant in your backyard, well, that might raise a stink, in more ways than one. Gray areas include running a hair salon in your basement.
The rules regarding home-based businesses fall into three basic categories:
- Exterior modifications and displays. This includes restrictions on building additions onto your home, conducting business or storing items outside, erecting commercial displays, signage, and so forth.
- Traffic. This includes restrictions on the number of commercial visitors (customers) you can have, issues related to parking and traffic, and the number of employees you are allowed to have in your home.
- Environment. This includes restrictions on excessive noise, odors, flashing lights, hazardous materials storage, etc.
These are pretty obvious concerns, and they make sense from the neighbors’ point of view. This is why certain parts of municipalities are zoned for commercial use while others are zoned for residential use. Zoning laws might not allow commercial vehicles, like a van or truck used in the business, to be parked in the street, or even in plain view in a driveway overnight. As vehicle graphics become more affordable and prevalent, you might think it worthwhile to have your business logo and other graphics applied to your vehicle, but the downside may be that you may not be allowed to park it outside overnight.